Mirror of the Mind: Reviews

Mirror Of The Mind


Kris Allen (ss, as, ts), Earl MacDonald (p), Christopher Hoffman (clo), Rogerio Boccato (perc); Westwood, MA, November 2-3, 2012.


Cadence Magazine, the Independent Journal of Creative Improvised Music
By: Stuart Kremsky
Published: October, 2014


Pianist Earl MacDonald has assembled an interesting cast of characters for the Creative Opportunity Workshop on this rewarding and largely enjoyable release. The assertive and hard-swinging saxophonist Kris Allen has recorded with fellow reedmen Chris Bryars and Loren Stillman and as a member of the Illinois Jacquet Orchestra. Cellist Christopher Hoffman has worked with Henry Threadgill’s Zooid and Matt Holman’s Diversion Ensemble, and the exceptionally tasty drummer Rogerio Boccato has been heard with John Patitucci, David Binney, and the Curtis Brothers.

The use of cello instead of bass pushes the band a little outside of a typical post-bop mindset. The different range of the instrument moves the rest of the group to a higher state of mindfulness to accommodate it. And Hoffman is adept at shifting from the usual function of bass in a band to become a forceful solo voice, which in turn gives MacDonald more to work with.

Most of the tunes are originals by MacDonald. The title tune starts things off with a mid-tempo groover, with Allen on alto. From layers of carefully organized melodic patterns, the arrangement carves space for convincing solos by Allen, Hoffman and Allen again to take it out.

A repeated piano figure is at the core of the first theme of “A Thousand Memories,” followed by a release that gives MacDonald his first solo of the date. His piano skips and dances attractively, setting the stage for a gruff tenor solo by Allen. A jittery Hoffman playing arco glides in for a solo, then slips back into the ensemble. It’s all over by 3:33, a refreshing change from sessions where everything seems to last too long.

MacDonald makes a point of keeping the songs under control; only “Where Thinking Leaves Off” exceeds the six-minute mark. “Beneath” is funky and stark at first, opens up quickly into mid-tempo groove featuring Allen on a fine-sounding soprano. He seems to be equally at home on all three of his horns, widening the band’s range even more.

While you might not think of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” as a useful vehicle for improvisation, MacDonald’s reharmonization and tempo shifts work quite well and features a warm soprano sax solo by Allen, a bouncy piano break by the pianist, and a typically spry solo by Hoffman. That’s one of two covers on the disc. The other is the seldom-played “I Never Told You,” by Johnny Mandel and Arthur Hamilton. Premiered on a Quincy Jones orchestra date in 1969, it’s a lovely dark melody. MacDonald’s arrangement puts Hoffman’s sweet cello out front to excellent effect for one of the highlights of the session. I was also quite taken with “Disillusionment,” with its twisty melody and wide-open solos by a snake-charming Allen and Hoffman.

The fractured melody of “It Was Whispered” makes for another standout performance. Boccato sounds great on this one, nailing every sharp twist and turn in the atomized, out of tempo middle section.

Certainly the weirdest passage on the disc is the theatrical laughter that greets the saxophone solo on “Where Thinking Leaves Off,” followed by a section of random noises and squeaks plus the odd grunt or two. Eventually, they settle into a groove that breaks down quickly, only to reestablish itself before dissipating into a series of overlapping solo statements that converge into a crescendo. At least there’s no more laughing.

The album ends with the straight-ahead upbeat groove of “Bottom Feeders,” a satisfyingly bluesy way to wrap things up. A playful MacDonald is followed by Allen, in a mood to explore the full range of his alto while Boccato and Hoffman keep pace. It’s the kind of tune designed to put a smile on your face and leave the listener with a good feeling. At least that’s the effect it had on me.

This Creative Opportunity Workshop is well worth hearing.

God’s Mind In That Music: New Music From Earl MacDonald

by: Jamie Howison
Published: March 2014

CASCADE_TemplateI first heard of the pianist and jazz educator Earl MacDonald while I was doing the research for my book, when a mutual acquaintance said I should contact him and have a bit of a conversation around what I was proposing. It ended up being a really good thing to do, as not only did that conversation with Earl help me to clarify my project, he also recommended I pursue further conversations with both John Patitucci and Ike Sturm. Brilliant advice.

Then just this past weekend I was looking over the list of nominations for this year’s JUNO Awards (Canada’s version of the Grammy’s, for those of you reading this from south of the border), and discovered that Earl’s  ”Mirror of the Mind” CD had been nominated for the Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year award. The album is actually credited to “Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop,” a quartet which utilizes a cello in place of a more conventional bass.

I downloaded a copy through iTunes that same day, and gave it a first listening. I’ve since managed to make time for just one more focused listening, but I’d have to say that what I’m hearing is a real delight. The album includes 10 MacDonald originals, nicely complimented by covers of Johnny Mandel’s “I Never Told You” and the Beatles’ pop tune “Blackbird.” Opting to go with cello over the more muscular sound of an upright bass works really well on this record… and really, is there any other instrument that can evoke emotion in the way that a well-played cello can?

Some of the tunes are highly accessible – I think that this arrangement of “Blackbird” might forever change how I hear the original – yet this is a quartet unafraid of stretching out and pushing toward the edges. A piece such as “Where Thinking Leaves Off”, for instance, provides plenty of experimental edge to keep a serious Coltrane fan fully engaged.

In short, highly recommended. And Earl, thanks for that great conversation back in 2010; you have no idea how helpful that was!

Our Man On The Coast

Our Man On The Coast
Earl MacDonald; Mirror of the Mind

By: Maxwell Chandler
Published: March, 2014

Earl MacDonald is a music educator (Jazz Studies; University of Connecticut), composer/arranger and musician (piano). Mirror of The Mind is his fifth album as leader, in which he continues his exploration of combining a diversity of outside influences and inspiration while still feeding off of jazz’s rich history.

The ensemble is a quartet comprised of piano, multi reedist Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It is a little bit of a different line up for a quartet but not overly so. The sonorities achieved by the group as a whole always remain interesting but never at the risk of alienating the more casual listeners.

“A Thousand Memories” begins with Earl’s piano in a see-saw pattern and brushed drums whose stuttered beat is perhaps someone’s pulse caught up in a reverie of memory. Opting to go for a cello instead of the standard upright bass is a great idea. Here, it enters the song initially emulating the piano pattern in a rich singing tone. For his solo statement Earl’s piano offers up a cascading run of percussive, clear ringing notes whose pattern is then taken up by the tenor saxophone. The horn’s solo is a long flurry of notes bereft of any discordance and so logically connected to both the piece and the piano solo which had preceded it that it serves to organically move the piece forward. Throughout the piece are two motifs, the see-saw pattern and occurring under that by cello and horn one that is a sort of diagonally upward thrusting pulse point pattern. Towards the end of the song the cello reiterates both themes. The finish is an exhale of the horns breath, softly and the final plink of the piano; the dream over but not forgotten and only for now.

The album is comprised of mostly original compositions with the exception of two covers (“Blackbird” and “I Never told you”). “Blackbird” is refreshingly executed as a fairly straight ahead read. In modern jazz a cover tune or musical quote initially would have some sort of humorous, intellectual or political raison d’etre. As jazz expanded past being music just for the outsiders (artists, intellectuals et al) a cover or musical quote became the starting point for each artist to build their own thing off of. For the past decade or so covers are often deconstructed or reimagined, sometimes distractingly so. The listener metamorphosed into an audience member at a magic show, waiting for the source material to be revealed. The “I” of the artist more often than not taking precedence over the material, what it means to them and not what makes the piece in itself great. In lieu of vocals the soprano saxophone declaims the main melody. It is a relaxed affair without ever lapsing into sounding like a jam band. The ensemble shows great interplay which is harder to organically do on material that is not comprised primarily of virtuosic turns. There is a beautifully buoyant plucked cello solo midway through the piece. The sonics for the entire album are pristine and immediate, lacking that digital coldness which can threaten to remove the humanity from a work.

“Miles Apart” is my favorite piece on the album. It has a laconic, bluesy feel. It is a nicely layered piece. There is a great opening line which has the soprano taking the lead under which a bowed cello can be heard, it being bolstered in turn by the subtle poly rhythmic murmurings of the percussion. The cello has some compelling moments, conjuring up the feel of someone with a stately mien admitting to having the blues without losing their composure as they do so. The long lines of the soprano which end the piece underscoring the point. In some bar or club, the protagonist dressed to the nines, happy to be going home not on account of having had a bad time but because that is the natural order of things. As is to lament what we lost or do not yet possess.

Maxwell Chandler  -Midtown-


L.A. Jazz Scene:
Earl MacDonald – Mirror of the Mind (Death Defying Records)

By: Scott Yanow
Published: February, 2014

Pianist Earl MacDonald leads an intriguing and very versatile quartet on a program that also features Kris Allen on alto, tenor and soprano saxophones, cellist Christopher Hoffman, and Rogerio Boccato on drums and percussion. Despite having the group called “The Creative Opportunity Workshop” and being on the Death Defying label, the music is far from esoteric and will be of strong interest to modern jazz listeners.

The quartet performs ten MacDonald compositions plus Johnny Mandel’s “I Never Told You” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” The music ranges from hard bop to some witty free improvisation and atmospheric pieces that hint at classical music. While cellist Hoffman sometimes walks like a string bassist, he also bows very well which adds to the group’s variety. Kris Allen is particularly strong on alto, Boccato is tasteful in a supportive role and MacDonald proves to be a versatile pianist who sometimes contributes hints of Thelonious Monk and stride while also playing much more modern solos.

The performances are mostly pretty concise with six songs under four minutes and only one over six, and the music always holds on to one’s interest. The enjoyable Mirror Of The Mind is well worth exploring and is available from www.earlmacdonald.com.

Jazz Weekly

Jazz Weekly: Creative Music and other forms of Avant Garde
By: George W. Harris
Published: January 2, 2014

SOUNDS MELDING TOGETHER…Earl MacDonald & the Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror of the Mind

Is it a style? Or is it just “music”?  Pianist Earl MacDonald wrote and arranged all of the material on this album that includes the intriguing combination of cello (Christopher Hoffman), percussion (Rogerio Boccato) and saxes (Kris Allen). Many of the pieces, such as the title track, have a gentle fluidity, as the bowed cello decorates Allen’s alto musings. A folkish take of “I Never Told You” yearns with compassion, while a boppish “Bottom Feeders” and a Monkish “Bidwell Cronies” keep the fingers snapping. Ragtime references on “Bidwell Cronies” contrast well with the serpentine yet graceful “A Thousand Memories.” Lots of wonderful moods here.

Smooth and Soul

Smooth & Soul
By: Woodrow Wilkins
Published: January 1, 2014

Award-winning jazz educator Earl MacDonald rearranges the concept of a jazz quartet. Where one normally would have piano, drums, bass and another instrument, MacDonald’s ensemble deviates slightly for Mirror of the Mind (Death Defying Records, 2013).

MacDonald plays piano. He is accompanied by the Creative Opportunities Workshop: Kris Allen, saxophones; Christopher Hoffman, cello; and Rogerio Broccato, percussion.

The title song opens the set. It starts with soft piano, cello and light cymbals. Then, the groove kicks in with the full quartet. Allen leads. The mood is bright and charming. With MacDonald and Boccato mixing it up in the background, the saxophone continues to point the way. Meanwhile, Hoffman plays the cello at times like a rhythm guitar, but later plucks the strings like a piccolo bass.

After a lively rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” the quartet comes back with the delightful “Bidwell Cronies.” A brief, playful walk-in-the-park piece that includes several pauses – perhaps to watch the children play or admire the flowers.

MacDonald is director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut. He was formerly pianist and musical director for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band. MacDonald’s Re:Visions – Works for Jazz Orchestra received a 2011 Canadian Juno Award nomination for “traditional jazz album of the year.” Among other distinctions, MacDonald has won the Sammy Nestico Award for big band arranging, and the jazz song category of the 2011 Independent Music Awards.

Mirror of the Mind accomplishes two things. It reaffirms the concept of thinking outside the box, particularly with use of the cello. And it demonstrates MacDonald’s progression as a composer, delivering music that shifts easily from mellow listening to engaged activity to something abstract.


Audiophile Audition
By: Pierre Giroux
Published: Dec. 9th, 2013 

Earl MacDonald and The Creative Opportunity Workshop – Mirror Of The Mind – Death Defying Records

A musical outing that is hard to define.

(Earl MacDonald – piano, compositions, arrangements; Kris Allen – soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones; Christopher Hoffman – cello; Rogerio Boccato – percussion)

Saint Jerome was an early Christian priest who, in addition to translating the Bible into Latin, offered the following quotation: “the face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart”. It hard to imagine that Earl MacDonald and his cohorts had such profundity in mind when they were recording Mirror Of The Mind, but the obtuseness of the music would fall in line with the quotation offered by Saint Jerome.

Earl MacDonald was originally from Winnipeg Canada, studied at McGill University in Montreal, then Rutgers University and now is Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut. Prior to this academic appointment, Earl was, among other things, the musical director, pianist, and arranger for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau from 1998 to 2000, so he has solid jazz credentials. Forsaking the usual instrumentation for this project, MacDonald has put together a band with an unusual front line of piano, cello and reeds, and they tackle a song cycle that with the exception of two tunes all are compositions of MacDonald. This latter talent has already won him some recognition as his tune “Wanton Spirit” was the title track of Kenny Barron’s 1994 Grammy nominated CD.

The title track “Mirror Of The Mind” begins this musical foray and it becomes abundantly clear from the first notes, that MacDonald cannot be put into any melodic box. The music is fluid with an introspective approach touching on a palette of tone and color. Seguing into “A Thousand Memories” MacDonald leads off with some strong right-hand lines with Hoffman’s cello playing off this, and Allen filling in the space on tenor. One of the cover tunes is Lennon/McCartney piece “Blackbird” with both cellist Hoffman and Kris Allen on soprano giving voice to the melody after which pianist MacDonald picks up the thread to then re-engage both Hoffman and Allen. The other cover piece is “I Never Told You” which was written by Arthur Hamilton and Johnny Mandel. This is a lovely ballad which flows out of a cello opening from Hoffman and provides the texture for MacDonald to take a sensitive turn on piano.

In this unstructured environment in which the group operates, whereby the foundation of MacDonald’s compositions stems from a variety of sources including classical, pop and avant-guard jazz forms, track titles provide no guide and sometime appear to have an “inside-baseball” connotation. For example, the slight offering entitled “Bidwell Cronies” has a rag-time inspiration, while “Disillusionment” offers an interesting rhythmic texture from percussionist Rogerio Boccato with the alto of Kris Allen taking the solo spotlight. The genesis of “Miles Apart” is murky, and whether it is meant to convey distance, or an allusion to Miles Davis, no amount of listening will sort out.

In this musical genre where self-identification may be a perilous approach, one is reminded of the Lewis Carroll classic book Alice In Wonderland and to bowdlerize one of the chapter titles “never take advice from a caterpillar”.


TrackList: Mirror Of The Mind; A Thousand Memories; Beneath; Blackbird; Bidwell Cronies; Disillusionment; Miles Apart; It Was Whispered; A Priori Perception; Where Thinking Leaves Off; I Never Told You; Bottom Feeders


All About Jazz
By Bruce Lindsay
Published: November 15, 2013

Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror of the Mind (2013)

Death Defying Records, it says on the cover. A doom-laden title for a record label but any expectations of a frenzy of black metal or gangster rap are soon dispelled by the beautiful cello and piano interplay on the opening bars of the title track. Mirror Of The Mind, from pianist Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop, is an album that surprises and delights—from the unusual piano, cello, sax and percussion line-up to the mix of styles and inspirations that influence MacDonald’s writing.

MacDonald, Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut and a former musical director for Maynard Ferguson‘s Big Bop Nouveau band, has crafted an impressive array of tunes. The frontline combination of Kris Allen on saxophones and Christopher Hoffman on cello does much to establish the band’s unusual sonic identity.

There are two covers. John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” is immediately recognisable, initially staying true to the original melody. This particular feathered friend is rather jollier than the original thanks to Rogerio Boccato‘s percussion and Allen’s lively soprano saxophone. The mood of Arthur Hamilton and Johnny Mandel’s “I Never Told You” is more sombre, Hoffman’s cello playing adding a touch of melancholy to the tune’s beauty.

MacDonald’s own compositions range from the romantic (“Mirror Of The Mind”) to the swinging (“Bottom Feeders”) to the somewhat odd. “A Thousand Memories” is an all too brief pleasure, a heady mix of MacDonald’s simple, repeated, riff and the interplay of tenor sax and cello. It’s also an excellent example of Hoffman’s warm, woody, cello tone which, when combined with Allen’s tenor, manages to sound pleasantly similar to a bass clarinet.

While things are consistently interesting across Mirror Of The Mind, things get weird at a couple of points. “It Was Whispered” is full of angular, spiky, interplay between the musicians, a contrast with the more flowing melodies of most of the tunes.

The weirdness escalates “Where Thinking Leaves Off.” The tune goes through periods of edgy, free-form music from each member of the quartet but it’s most unsettling when laughter, verging on the maniacal, bursts out. A darkly dramatic episode in what is, for the most part, a much lighter and more upbeat set of compositions. Maybe Death Defying Records isn’t so inappropriate a name for the label after all. Judging by the ways in which MacDonald and his colleagues take their creative opportunities, the band name’s about right too.

Track Listing: Mirror of the Mind; A Thousand Memories; Beneath; Blackbird; Bidwell Cronies; Disillusionment; Miles Apart; It Was Whispered; A Priori Perception; Where Thinking Leaves Off; I Never Told You; Bottom Feeders.

Personnel: Earl MacDonald: piano; Kris Allen: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

Record LabelDeath Defying Records


Winnipeg Free Press
By: Chris Smith
Published: October 17, 2013

Mirror of the Mind (Death Defying Records)

Pianist Earl MacDonald has chosen non-traditional instrumentation — piano, cello, saxophones and percussion — for his new album with his chamber jazz band, the Creative Opportunity Workshop.

The former Winnipegger, director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut, wrote 10 of the dozen songs here, giving a nod to Lennon/McCartney with Blackbird and Johnny Mandel with I Never Told You.

This project is a departure for MacDonald, who draws on classical, pop and progressive jazz influences. The pianist makes great use of the cello, and he and cellist Christopher Hoffman perform a dark duet to introduce MacDonald’s A Priori Perception.

Where Thinking Leaves Off, an avant garde-style piece that includes strained laughter from band members seems out of place among the other, more engaging tunes.

The band — which includes Kris Allen on alto, soprano and tenor saxophones and Rogerio Boccato on percussion — does a great job on Blackbird, a favourite Beatles’ cover for jazz musicians, and on MacDonald compositions like Miles Apart, the title track and Bottom Feeders.

MacDonald has taken an interesting new tack with compelling material and a good band.

Download this: Bottom Feeders

— Chris Smith

By: H. Allen Williams

Published: 10/15/2013 

Earl MacDonald is a pianist-composer that is no stranger to expressing himself with his pen. MacDonald was the musical director, pianist, and arranger for the Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau Band from 1998 to 2000. In 2002, MacDonald won the Sammy Nestico Award, for outstanding big band arranging and was selected as a finalist for 2007 Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Award during his affiliation with the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop in New York City. MacDonald’s piece, “Wanton Spirit” was the title track for Kenny Barron’s 1994 Grammy-nominated CD. More recently, his compositions for 17-piece jazz orchestra have been performed by: the Airmen of Note, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, the Millennium Jazz Orchestra, and university-based jazz ensembles from the Eastman School of Music, the University of North Texas, Rutgers, McGill, Rowan University, Lawrence University, Grant MacEwan University, Amherst College, the University of Manitoba and the University of Louisville, among others.

MacDonald is currently an associate professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut.  The Winnipeg native earned a bachelor of music degree in jazz performance at McGill University and a master of music degree at Rutgers, where he apprenticed with Kenny Barron. MacDonald’s CD, Re:Visions – Works for Jazz Orchestra which received a 2011 Canadian Juno Award nomination for “traditional jazz album of the year.”  MacDonald is also the musical director and composer-in-residence of the Hartford Jazz Society’s “New Directions Ensemble”. It is with his C.O.W. group that MacDonald presents his latest collection of compositions and arrangements entitled Mirror of the Mind (Death Defying Records).

Mirror of the Mind is comprised of two arrangements and ten MacDonald originals that defy the boundaries of jazz and incorporate a wide range of style that is presented in a unique instrumentation. MacDonald forgoes the bass in the ensemble; instead the cello’s sonorities are used for both melodic and traditional “bass” walking and time keeping. MacDonald expands upon his choice of the cello, “A well-played cello is one of my favorite sounds. As a kid I despised the instrument, as there was a poor, amateur cellist who played the occasional offertory at our church. I remember being in pure agony as she scraped her bow across the strings to render the simplest of hymnal melodies… but I digress. In the proper hands, the cello is capable of so much — expressive singing, poignant pizzicato annunciations, a wide range of lows and highs, large dynamic contrasts, double stops, the ability to function convincingly like a jazz bassist if needed, blending well with other instruments, etc.. Plus, there is such a vast history of notated and recorded literature from which to learn. The cello has all of these wonderful attributes, while fitting my initial agenda of not using instruments directly associated with jazz, to expand my color palate and stretch my imagination, both compositionally and pianistically.”

The Creative Opportunity Workshop is comprised of Kris Allen on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, Christopher Hoffman on cello, Rogerio Boccato on percussion and MacDonald on piano. The Creative Opportunity Workshop has the sounds of many influences, classical with notes of Brahms, Schumann, Earle Brown, pop with sounds of the Beatles, the harmonic and rhythmic language of jazz from Johnny Mandel, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman and Nat Cole.

“Mirror of the Mind” starts the CD with a beautiful trio statement with MacDonald’s steadily moving voicings with inner tight intervals and Hoffman’s warm cello sounding a flowing melody with Boccato coloring the spaces with cymbals. The music instantly has an expansive feeling and sound to it and brings to mind sounds of Aaron Copeland. The free flowing intro moves to a mid-tempo pulsed framework in which MacDonald develops the theme through a series of harmonic colors and forms. Allen’s saxophone work is very enjoyable; his improvisations are an extension on the mood and in character of the written composition. Hoffman provides a nice pizzicato solo that dances around a central theme. His lines are clear, warm and in good intonation. MacDonald’s various repeating chordal figures are the central driving force to the selection with Boccato’s percussion providing support and coloring.

MacDonald’s treatment of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” is another highlight of the CD. The listener can really appreciate MacDonald’s command of orchestration and counterpoint on this extremely well-known melody. The piano solo finds MacDonald speaking a clear jazz vocabulary with Hoffman’s cello taking the traditional bass role and walking a line to provide a very nice swinging piano trio moment. MacDonald has this to say about the arrangement and how it developed, “This is one of my favorite Beatles tunes. Several prominent jazz musicians have arranged and recorded it, including Brad Meldau, Mike Holober and Tony Williams. Two of my college buddies from McGill University, Joel Haynes and Tilden Webb recorded the piece on Joel’s trio album, The Time Is Now, Tilden did the arrangement. I loved the drum beat (reminiscent of Vernell Fournier on Ahmad Jamal’s “Poincianna”) and thought the underpinning 10ths figure was ingenious. But as much as I liked it, I found myself hearing it “going to some other places” and wishing certain sections could be expanded and developed. As an arranger, this habit when listening can be both a blessing and a curse. Anyways, I decided to act on my impulses and tweak the arrangement to suit my C.O.W. instrumentation.”

Honestly, the colors and musical journeys are just too vast to describe in a simple review. The music has something for everyone and was funded by support from the UCONN School of Fine Arts’ 50th Anniversary Interdisciplinary Research and Creative Activity Competition, and munificent backers who supported a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing and promoting the CD. Mirror of the Mind is another great installment in the interesting, endeavors and ever growing catalog of pianist/composer Earl MacDonald, Chamber Jazz at its best.

Tracks: Mirror of the Mind, A Thousand Memories, Beneath, Blackbird, Bidwell Cronies, Disillusionment, Miles Apart, It Was Whispered, A Priori Perception, Where Thinking Leaves Off, I Never Told You, Bottom Feeders.

Personnel: Kris Allen – soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, Christopher Hoffman – cello, Rogerio Bocccato – percussion, Earl MacDonald – piano, compositions and arrangements

Label: Death Defying Records

All About Jazz
By: Edward Blanco
Published: October 13, 2013

Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror of the Mind (2013)

Not satisfied with the traditional jazz spectrum, pianist and educator Earl MacDonald explores new ways of expressing his progressive taste and with Mirror of the Mind deciding to challenge the boundaries of jazz with a unique instrumentation and sound forged by his new band, Creative Opportunity Workshop. As Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut and former director of Maynard Ferguson‘s Big Bop Nouveau Band, MacDonald has had plenty of experience in the large ensemble circuit and with the traditional side of jazz (nominated for 2011 Canadian Juno Awards for “Traditional Jazz Album of the Year”). This new venture is quite different from that mold beginning with a new scaled down group and instrumentation featuring a front line saxophone and a rhythm section of piano, percussion and a cello.

The music is just as much of a departure drawing elements from classical, pop, rock, the progressive side of jazz and others. Influences on the recording come from a variety of sources including the Beatles, Brahms, Johnny Mandel, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman and even Nat “King” Cole. The somewhat down tempo opening title track quickly reveals the new influences capturing tenor saxophonist Kris Allen and the slight percussive flair of the piece with percussionist Rogerio Boccato. MacDonald keys in the introduction to “A Thousand Memories” takes some right-hand liberties and lets Allen and Boccato draw the featured roles on the nearest traditional tune of the disc.

There are only two covers with the Lennon/McCartney piece “Blackbird” being the first and highlighting Christopher Hoffman on the cello as well as the saxophonist on soprano before the leader takes over with stellar Corea-styled piano riff. “Bidwell Cronies” harkens back to the Jelly Roll Morton influence while the light-textured “Disillusionment” and “Miles Apart” convey a similar earthly mood. MacDonald and Hoffman perform a haunting duet on the introduction to the dark-styled “A Priori Perception” where the music remains classically cloudy.

Complete with dark-humored laughter from members of the band, unusual sounds like one may find in an avant-garde or free style jazz piece, the appropriately-titled “Where Thinking Leaves Off,” is perhaps the most challenging track to appreciate. Nevertheless, this concept album winds down on the Arthur Hamilton cover “I Never Told You” and the exceptional “Bottom Feeders” completing a purposely designed non-traditional musical statement.

Pianist Earl MacDonald succeeds in carving out a brand new niche for himself separating his past from this new vision of jazz yet to be clearly defined. A clever and innovative production from one of the most accomplished pianists in the business, Mirror of the Mind is truly a challenging listen taking jazz to a different level, one in which pianist Earl MacDonald and his Creative Opportunity Workshop are the pioneers.
Track Listing: Mirror of the Mind; A Thousand Memories; Beneath; Blackbird; Bidwell Cronies; Disillusionment; Miles Apart; It Was Whispered; A Priori Perception; Where Thinking Leaves Off; I Never Told You; Bottom Feeders.

Personnel: Earl MacDonald: piano; Kris Allen: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

Record Label: Death Defying Records

Hartford Courant

Hartford Courant
By: Owen McNally, Special To The Courant
Published October 7, 2013

UConn Jazz Prof Earl MacDonald Celebrates New Release At Jorgensen

A magical, musical alchemist of hip hybrids, Earl MacDonald, the Canadian-born, Connecticut-based pianist, composer, arranger, bandleader and educator, has created yet another visionary, surprise-filled work with the release of his new CD, “Mirror of the Mind,” featuring his hand-picked jazz chamber group, the Creative Opportunity Workshop.

MacDonald, who is associate professor and director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut, and his collaborators in his empathetic workshop quartet mark the release of the new CD on Friday, Oct. 11, at 8 p.m. with a concert at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the UConn campus at Storrs. With MacDonald as pianist, composer and arranger, the workshop is comprised of saxophonist Kris Allen, cellist Christopher Hoffman and percussionist Rogerio Boccato.

Allen, whose playing is extraordinary throughout the CD’s 12 tracks, has been a central member of almost all of MacDonald’s multi-faceted, Connecticut-based ensembles, including the Earl MacDonald 6, the New Directions Ensemble and Jazz Lauds. Allen’s fluent alto, tenor and soprano saxophones bring extra variety to the band’s tonal palette, as does, of course, the lush richness of the cello, a far too rarely used instrument in jazz settings. A solid force in the chamber group’s cello chair, Hoffman bows arco passages filled with classical colors resonating throughout the instrument’s dramatic range of moods, including melancholy. Or, in yet another expressive option, the cellist plucks pizzicato grooves that swing or walk like a jazz bass taking care of the rhythmic business.

Rounding out the bona fide all-star quartet is Boccato, who’s been the percussionist of choice for luminaries ranging from John Patitucci to Joe Lovano.

The new disc, released on Death Defying Records, contains 10 original compositions by MacDonald. The two non-MacDonald pieces are “Blackbird” by John Lennon/Paul McCartney and “I Never Told You” by Arthur Hamilton/Johnny Mandel, each interpreted with the maestro’s signature approach. The UConn concert includes performance of the music in sync with the projected visual imagery and videography of the collaborative artists Deborah Dancy and Ted Efremoff.

Concert tickets: $15, general admission; $10, UConn faculty and staff; $5, students. Box office at 860-486-4226 and online at www.jorgensen.uconn.edu. Jorgensen is at 2132 Hillside Road, Storrs.

The best way to listen to “Mirror of the Mind” is to read MacDonald’s extensive online liner notes. These provide not just background on the individual pieces, but also insights into the philosophy of his work and what he calls his “ongoing search for new ways to express himself through his music while challenging the defining boundaries of jazz.” His program notes, which are a verbal mirror of his mind as a creative artist, are at https://www.earlmacdonald.com.

Part of MacDonald’s musical quest is the search for “the sound of surprise,” an element that, he warns, faces “an inevitable risk of dissipating as the art form becomes increasingly codified.”

“One way to keep things fresh,” he continues, “is to look to other musical styles for inspiration.” Among his wide spectrum of influences, MacDonald cites Brahms, Schumann, Earle Brown, the Beatles, folk music from various cultures, Johnny Mandel, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman and Nat “King” Cole.”

Similarly, he’s chosen to write for this specific instrumentation — cello, saxophone, piano and percussion — “as a means to escape the predictability, established parameters and creative confines found in the more typical jazz instrumentations.”

Set for official release on Oct. 15, “Mirror of the Mind” will be available through CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon and other various download and streaming sites.


The Jazz Society of Pensacola
By: F. Norman Vickers
Published:  September 18, 2013

Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop
Death Defying Records

This CD entitled Mirror of the Mind arrived in my mailbox recently with a request for review by Earl MacDonald. Professor MacDonald is a pianist/composer/arranger at the University of Connecticut. Formerly, he was pianist and musical director with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau band.

MacDonald’s fellow-musicians, comprising the Creative Opportunity Workshop include Kris Allen, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones; Christopher Hoffman, cello; and Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

There were no liner notes accompanying the CD but the cover indicated a website for liner notes, video and performance dates.  All compositions, except two, are original except the Lennon & McCartney tune “Blackbird” and the Arthur Hamilton/Johnny Mandel “I Never Told You.”

It’s a tough job for a reviewer to hear entirely new compositions because he has, or should have, no preconceived notions as to how the tune should “go.” I listened to the tunes before researching the liner notes.  The cello, both bowed and plucked, was an important player in the group, sometimes carrying the melody and sometimes in harmony with piano and various members of the saxophone family.

Certainly this is not run-of-the mill jazz and blues.  What could I say to give the reader a “taste” of this unfamiliar music with mostly unusual names of the tunes? Well, if one likes the unusual compositional and pianistic styling  such as that of Fred Hersch or the late John Lewis of the MJQ, then this may appeal to you—not bad company, I’d say.  I’ve already said, really listening to unfamiliar music requires concentration. After I listened, I searched MacDonald’s website www.earlmacdonald.com  and found clues to the unusual titles and also reference to some things I missed on first listening.  If you’re an adventurous listener, then this may be the CD for you.  I’ll give you a brief hint.  MacDonald’s tune, Bidwell Cronies, is only 1:39 long.  The tune takes its name from Bidwell Tavern in Coventry, CT where one can see, as MacDonald writes “…wide array of people gathered at the bar, representing many different walks of life—professors, bikers, bagpipers, cross-dressers, and even someone wearing a large, red and white striped Dr. Suess hat adorned with buttons.

Release date is October 15, 2013.  Purchase through CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes and other sites.

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